Houses | Moquegua


Cerro Mejia

Unit 3

Unit 3 is a small house with three rooms, two that were enclosed and an open patio in between.  Two hearths were present, one in each enclosed room.  Patches of ash were present throughout the structure and represent garbage pits below the surface of the floor.

Room A is an open patio space with no back retaining wall.  Ceramic fragments indicate the use or storage of several vessels in the room, including two large necked jars, a one handled serving pitcher, a lyre cup, and three bowls of different forms.  Lithic debitage was clustered along the east wall, in the center of the room and in front of the threshold to Room C.  A hammer stone and an anvil were also present.

Faunal material was primarily splintered fragments of mammal bone.  A spindle whorl was found near the elevated threshold to Room C. A grouping of special items may have fallen from a wall niche or otherwise have been stored in a location elevated above the floor.  These goods were clustered in quads 24, 25, 40, and 41, and include fragments of a metal object, two lithic points and a small stone tableta coated with red pigment.  Two decorated pottery fragments appear to be associated.  The contents of the niche may indicate that the patio not only served as a setting for common domestic activity, such as production, consumption, and sleeping, but also was the setting for family scale ritual practices.

There are several small dispersions of ash present.  These contain burnt material probably from a hearth and other refuse that has not been burnt.  These features were interpreted as episodes of hearth and house cleaning.  Since these dispersions occur at or below the floor surface they are probably from the house occupation itself rather than postabandonment deposition.

Room B is a small, enclosed room to the east of the patio.  There is a narrow access between the patio and the enclosed room.  Room B also has another access to the exterior in the east wall.  There was a large hearth and three associated ashy stains on the floor. A garbage pit was also present.

Several clusters of lithic material are present including a small grindstone and anvil. Another significant cluster of lithic implements was found in the strata among wall fall and likely represents implements stored in a wall niche.  In quad 5 there were two medium sized adzes, associated with eight utilized flakes and one unutilized flake.  These flakes exhibit wear from polishing and one has striations. These adzes likely represent ceramic vessel production carried out occasionally by the members of the household.  A broken hoe was found just south of the west doorway and represents agricultural work.

Ceramic fragments were most densely concentrated around the hearth and are primarily from a large two handled cooking vessel.  A small flask with a chevron neck band was found north of the hearth and another chevron motif, although vertical, was found on a cup fragment.  The flask revealed an important fact, the slip and decoration was preserved on four of the five rim fragments, but the fifth has lost all its slip.   The ashy matrix near the hearth may have preserved the decoration, whereas the acidic clay floor matrix may not. It is possible that decoration was actually more common than observed, however most up valley sites have the same matrix as Cerro Mejia and will likely suffer the same problem, Cerro Baul on the other hand is located on a sandier geologic formation and exhibits better preservation of all materials when compared to Cerro Mejia.

A unique find in the house was the broken blade portion of a tumi presumably used as a knife.  It was recovered from quad 5 between two fragments of the decorated flask and adjacent to a cluster of animal bone on the floor.  The tumi is made of an alloy predominantly copper mixed with silver and is 1.3mm thick.  Other metal fragments found in Room A do not match this object.  This object as well as the flask may have been located in a wall niche, however, their location in direct contact with the floor surface suggests that they may have been in or near their primary context or part of an ritual abandonment offering. Two points in obsidian were both made in the same form with concave bases that were likely hafted knives, one on each side of the hearth.  Another point made of red quartz is very anomalous.  It appears to be a reworked base fragment, tanged in form with no evidence of use.  This point may have still been in the process of modification.

Room C is a small enclosed room to the west of Patio Room A.  This room has a hearth, just south of the northeast corner, and two ash features that are garbage pits.  Access to this enclosed room is gained from the patio via an elevated threshold.  The functions of Room B and Room C appear to be analogous, however, there is a clear difference in the quality of the stone masonry construction between the two structures with Room C exhibiting a more rustic and irregular quality.
Ceramic vessels are primarily bowls and are located along the east wall.  There are at least three, all exhibiting different forms.  Many sherds are clustered along the opposite wall around the hearth, however, there is only one diagnostic fragment that of a 26cm diameter bowl or neckless olla or “olla sin cuello”.

Debitage near the hearth consists primarily of obsidian.  In the southeast corner there was an obsidian point found in association with obsidian retouch flakes.  The point has a broken base and exhibits no use wear, therefore it may have been damaged in production and is near its primary context.  Another activity zone in the northeast corner consists of an obsidian flake exhibiting haft wear and a beveled use edge, a shovel shaped obsidian flake with a cutting edge, and a primary flake in ryolite with a cutting edge.  These materials were found in association with a ceramic spindle whorl.  It is tempting to suggest that these implements were in some way involved in spinning or yarn production or at least reflect female tools, however, this can only be suggested after examining all lithics found in association with spindle whorls, which unfortunately were too few to make any confident conclusions.

The occupants of Unit 3 had access to several quality products, metal, decorated ceramic wares, chrysacolla, and the relatively rare red quartz.  At the same time they practiced farming and bead making and potentially formed their own obsidian points and ceramic vessels.  Members of this residential group also participated in many productive activities and rituals together in the common patio they shared.

Unit 4 is a complex set of terraces that were divided into five areas.  Room A was an enclosed room occupying its own terrace, below it on a lower surface another terrace retaining wall supported Room B, Room C an alcove with a curved back wall, and Room D, a patio.  Room E is a terrace above Room C, that was an additional sleeping/storage area or enclosed food preparation room.  The goal of the project was to excavate entire structures, however, Rooms C, D, and E were not completed because of time constraints.

Room A has a hearth centrally located along the south wall.  This space closely resembles a rectangular room from a formal patio group.  The enclosed room is 3.2 m wide and 6.2 m long.  A doorway with an elevated threshold allows access to the rest of the structure in the east wall.  This room appears to have been the first constructed in this grouping. There were many ceramic remains in Room A, including two fragments of spindle whorls, a whole example, and a sherd in the process of being shaped.

Obsidian points, flakes, and retouch were all present.   Room A exhibits a unique character because of the extremely high frequency of faunal refuse present.  Just west of the hearth 579.7 grams of bone were recovered from one meter square.  Faunal bone is scattered throughout the room, embedded into the floor matrix in various states of preservation.  These materials are not associated with ash dispersions that suggest the presence of midden pits nor is there clear evidence to suggests that the bone was being curated for tool production or other processing.  I suggest that in association with the function of Room B, discussed below, this large quantity of faunal remains may represent evidence of feast preparation.

Room B is a long area leading to the patio Room D.  The width of the wider western portion of the space is equal to Room A.  This section is nearly 4 meters long.  The space then turns north and is almost 2 meters wide and 2 meters long.  This space is not clearly divided, but Room C, a well-defined alcove, will be discussed separately.  Thus Room B consists of an L shaped area.  There are several dispersions of ash, however, none of these patches represent hearths.  This area is sparse in material remains compared to the other spaces in the structure.  A great deal of erosion is present along the south wall, the front of the terrace.  This likely reflects the traffic pattern through the structure, from the entrance to the doorway in the west wall, and access to the main activity areas—the enclosed room and the patio.

There are very few diagnostic ceramic fragments, the majority of materials present are slipped ceramic sherds, likely the fragments of serving and consumption vessels.  There are at least six vessels present based on rim diameters, decorated fragments, and paste differences.  I suggest this was an area used to serve and consume food and drink and may have been an area where those outside the household group were welcomed, one might compare this space to a parlor, but it was likely multifunctional.  Lithic remains, in contrast to Room A, include no obsidian implements.

Room C is a small alcove located immediately west of the entrance into the plaza.  It is important to note that the space in this room is not rectangular because it’s back terrace wall is curved rather than straight.  The curvature of the back wall and the double construction are the reasons why this space was given a separate designation.  Room C was a later addition with the walls adjacent to, rather than abutting the previous wall.  There was a small circular ash patch located in the alcove.  This room may have had some significance both because of its curvilinear form and because plaster fragments suggest that the wall was once white.  The room was also kept relatively clean.

Room D is an open patio area that likely had a low bench, approximately 30cm in height, along the north wall of the area, however, excessive damage from erosion and falling rocks made it impossible to conclude the presence of the bench with certainty.  The patio has no clearly defined back wall, which was common among the patios associated with the terrace dwellings.  The patio is more than 3.5 m by 4m in size.  Quads along the east and southern
edge were not excavated because of time constraints.  This room extended beyond the original grid for the unit, thus there are irregularities in the way quads were designated.  A number of ash dispersions were uncovered. The stratigraphic level of this ash and the amorphous way it is scattered over the floor suggests that it may be the remains of a burnt roof rather than buried garbage refuse.  This structure may have been ritually abandoned.

Ceramic remains are numerous and varied.  In the northwest corner of the structure on the bench there were the nearly intact remains of a miniature jar, and the remains of a small serving vessel, probably a cup.  Several sherds of another cup with red slip, 2.5YR6/6, were just south of the western doorway.  Two large jars were located on the floor against the bench or may have fallen from it.  A third vessel may have been a serving pitcher or another storage jar.  The remains of a fourth jar with handles was clustered in quad 103.  Along the east wall of the structure the remains of several slipped vessels, one a decorated cup another a large open bowl with interior slip, a third is unidentified, were found in association with a large ash dispersion.  The ceramic vessels in the patio represent both storage and consumption activities.  The presence of the charred remains of a miniature vessel may represent ritual activity of some kind since these vessels are common in offering contexts.

Lithic materials were found both on the floor and in the level that probably represented the surface of the bench (Figure 6-16).  A sizable core with blade scars was found near polishing stones for preparing the striking platform. Many unutilized flakes, debitage, and retouch flakes were recovered and suggest that the production of lithic artifacts was carried out in the patio.  Obsidian retouch flakes also demonstrate that the points curated in this area may have been reworked by its occupants.  There were five points in the patio, four in obsidian and one in chalcedony.  These artifacts all reflect different forms and labor investments.  All showed evidence of use.  A chrysacolla bead blank was also found.

Faunal refuse was scattered about the room and present in moderate concentrations on the bench.
The bench in this structure appears to have been used as an activity area and possible for storage, a location where large jars and lithic artifacts were kept when not in use.

Area E was not excavated in its entirety and it is unclear if it was a portion of a room or an activity area exterior to the structure.  A small patch of ash was located in the entry to this room.  This space was accessed from room B the corridor possibly via stairs or a ramp, however, neither were clearly identified during excavation.  It is possible that a perishable ladder was used to ascend to the higher elevation of Area E.

Ceramic fragments indicate that one cooking vessel with handles was present and several other vessels including a handled storage jar, a jar without handles, and a cup or small bowl. The most significant find was a fragment of a polychrome face neck jar, however, so few fragments were found within this paste category that the artifact cannot be definitively placed within the room.  Of course since this space was not completely excavated it is possible that more fragments of the vessel are elsewhere in the structure.  Based on the vessel assemblage Area E may have duplicated the function of Room A as food preparation area, because a mano was found in this room (present in strata photo but curiously discarded by excavator (a victim of the anti-lithic sentiment).  This demonstrates that perhaps the excavator was not collecting all the lithic material during the excavation of this unit and therefore no definitive conclusions can be made about the activities that were practiced in this context.

Unit 4 may have housed more than one family.  Room A functioned as the enclosed room, an area for food preparation and possibly sleeping.  Room B served as an entryway and consumption area, Room C may have had a significant ritual function, but such a suggestion rests on minimal evidence.  Room D was clearly a patio that housed a variety of productive tasks.  If we conclude that Area E was a second cooking venue then the residence housed an extended family group of two discrete nuclear units, sleeping and cooking apart but occasionally eating or feasting and carrying out many daily tasks as well as ritual together.  Alternatively Area E may have had a storage function or served as an added sleeping area, in either case we are likely looking at a structure with a long life cycle that shows evidence of additions and modifications.  The layout at the time of abandonment demonstrates that the spaces included areas for social engagement with immediate neighbors or barrio members.

Unit 5

Unit 5 was a simple structure consisting of a small enclosed room, Room A, and an adjoining patio, Room B.  Area C a ramp that led to the entrance into the patio was also excavated.  This structure represents the simplest dwelling dating to the Middle Horizon excavated on Cerro Mejia.  Excavation of the entire structure revealed an array of common residential activity patterns.

Room A is relatively small, 1.8x 2.5 m.  The architectural remains, as well as the amount of wall fall suggest that this room was constructed of stone masonry with low walls and was enclosed and roofed.  A small doorway in the east wall leads to an ample patio, Room B.  The remains of an incurving bowl and a large handled jar were found near the hearth, but have little evidence of burning.  A small ash stain suggests that cooking vessels were associated with the hearth, however, evidence of the cooking pots remains elusive.

This small, enclosed room is notable for the 84, mostly of obsidian, retouch flakes concentrated in and near the hearth.  Only one small obsidian flake is present and thus it would appear that the implements that were formed or reworked in this room were not abandoned with the dwelling.  An onyx bead blank and a small adze were also recovered, among other lithics.
Small splintered fragments of bone are embedded into the floor throughout the surface of the room.  High concentrations of bone were north of the hearth with moderate concentrations on the hearth edge, but are significantly less than other structures.  This room was likely associated with the processing of animal products because of the numerous animal bones present and the association with extensive reworking of obsidian.

Room B is a patio area with a low bench along the north and east borders.  As with other patio structures there is no clear back retaining wall.  The bench structure averages 20 cm above the floor surface and is approximately 70cm wide along the north wall.  This room has a third use surface, that may have functioned as a wide footing for a vegetable super structure, or more likely served as an irregular, but relatively flat, storage shelf behind the bench.  The third surface or shelf area is approximately 50cm wide and elevated 30 cm above the bench surface, 50 cm above the floor.  It is far too rock riddled to have served as a comfortable sleeping platform, but is practically devoid of artifacts, thus may have been an area for storage.  Hopefully soil chemical analysis will clarify the use of this space.  Likewise the bench, which exhibits the remains of many activities, was not a sleeping location, but rather provided a surface for several varied activities.  Together Room B is 2.6m wide and 3.4m long.

Several features in this room suggest the variety of activities carried out in the patio space.  Two features are patches on the bench that were subjected to heat in such a way that left discolored and hardened clay below light gray patches of ash.  These features are similar to pot rests, however, they demonstrate a greater level of heat alteration that implies contact with objects
that could transmit higher temperatures, also the ash is light grey rather than the black stains associated with cooking pot storage.  A vessel was sunken into the surface of the bench.  On the floor we observed a series of small cylindrical voids filled with volcanic ash, that may represent the posts of a weaving loom just west of the door.  The patio was entered from the south wall, near the southeast corner via a ramp paralleling the front of the terrace.  The ramp, Area C, will be discussed below.

A jar was located on the floor possibly in the corner against the bench.  Fragments of a decorated cup were located on the east portion of the bench and adjacent floor surface.  A pedestal bowl base and associated fragments were also identified.

The floor surface revealed evidence for some lithic production and small scale grinding.  A small irregular stone was found on the bench- it was not smooth, but exhibited both read and yellow pigment. I initially interpreted it as a stone for grinding pigment, but further analysis showed it exhibited no wear. Other items also exhibited pigment and may have been used to apply the color to the rock.

Faunal refuse is scattered in small quantities throughout the room and on the bench surface.  The highest concentration of animal bone was found in the vicinity of the loom.  This may be because bone is the primary material of which weaving implements are made.

Excavation of Area C, the ramp revealed relatively large lithics and thus this “front porch” may have been an area utilized for primary lithic reduction, since waste from the interior of the structure is represented by tiny retouch flakes and relatively small pieces of debitage.  No hearth ash, and only minimal amounts of bone were present.  Ceramic sherds occurred only in the surface levels.  Therefore it appears that this area was not used as an area for regular discard.  In contrast the adjacent quebrada was full of cultural material, but this area was not tested because of the concentrated erosion that occurs in these gullies.

Unit 5 is extremely significant because it represents a simple isolated structure and therefore can be used as a baseline to understand the basic repertoire of domestic activities.  The presence of a bench in this structure also allows comparisons in activities between this low order context and higher order contexts that typically have benches. The presence of a painted rock, may indicate a connection to the placa pintada offering tradition present in the Majes and Chuquibamba regions.

Unit 4